Killing Me Softly with Fast Food

Picasso: The Blue Guitarist

Strumming my pain with his fingers

Singing my life with his words

Killing me softly with his song

Killing me softly with his song

Telling my whole life with his words

Killing me softly with his song

These are the opening lines of “Killing Me Softly,” a song by Roberta Flack, written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, from back in the 1970’s. Other artists have covered it since, but this is the one I remember best. The ancient British poet William Congreve wrote in a play, The Mourning Bride, in 1697, a saying oft misquoted:

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,

To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

I’ve read, that things inanimate have mov’d,

And, as with living Souls, have been inform’d,

By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.

Today we say “Music has charms to soothe a savage beast,” but we no longer think of ourselves as people needing soothing, yet we’re also a society who have high levels of use of alcohol, drug use, and other substance abuse. Much of this activity is a means to dull our pain or calm our inner emotional states so we can interact with others and not cause “a scene.” Unfortunately, when we may use a small amount of any substance at first to make this change, we then discover we need more of the same stuff to cause the same outcome. Then the real drama begins.

After a hard day at work, we face a difficult commute home, a big pile or four of laundry, and a whole family screaming the moment we hit the door, “I’m hungry! What’s for dinner? I could eat a horse! I can’t wait!” And we remember Mr. Crockpot was too sleepy to roll out of bed and get the veggies chopped and get himself plugged in. We might have to fire him or get him an alarm that he can hear in the morning. As we secure our seatbelt for the crawl home, we notice how many fast food joints line our route: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, KFC, not to mention Taco Bell.

Don’t Judge Me!

As an Arkansan, I can relate to this recent study: If you pass by many fast-food outlets on your daily commute, weight gain might be the result, new research shows. People tempted by more fast-food restaurants going to and from work tended to have a higher BMI (body mass index) than people who didn’t. The study involved more than 700 female elementary school employees living in and around New Orleans.

The investigators also found an association between higher BMI and a larger number of supermarkets, grocery stores and fast-food restaurants clustered near people’s homes. Conversely, having a greater number of full-service, sit-down restaurants near your home was associated with a lower BMI, according to the team led by Arizona State University researcher Adriana Dornelles.

The study couldn’t prove cause and effect, but it found “a significant relationship between BMI and multiple food environments,” Dornelles said in a university news release. “In our daily lives, we are exposed to several healthy and unhealthy food choices, which has an impact on BMI. The availability and variety of fast-food restaurants along our commute create endless opportunities for a quick, cheap and unhealthy meal, which results, on average, in higher body mass index,” she said.

In the study, Dornelles’ team tracked the number of supermarkets, grocery stores, full-service restaurants and fast-food restaurants within about a half a mile of the employees’ homes and workplaces.

So much for my summer—Starbucks, since I’m doing home repairs

The researchers also pinpointed the number and type of food stores within a half a mile of the shortest-distance commute path between each employee’s home and workplace. BMI tended to rise along with the number of fast-food outlets and other food sources around a person’s home or on their commute, according to the study published online Aug. 7 in the journal PLOS One.

Two experts in nutrition and weight management weren’t surprised by the findings. The “takeaway” from the study is that, “the larger the number of these [food] establishments, the greater the BMI of the population of the people who live or commute in this area,” said Katrina Hartog, clinical nutrition manager at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. Michelle Milgrim is manager of employee wellness at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y. She said the new findings should remind people of the pull fast-food has on nutrition choices made every day.

Odysseus and the Sirens

Several ways we can avoid the “siren call of fast food satisfaction” are

1. Change your route home so you don’t see these tempting food cues.

2. Bring a healthy snack from home to eat before you leave for home or go to the grocery store.

3. Practice meal preparation so you have vegetables to microwave, and small portions of precooked meats to reheat.

4. If the kids are hungry, serve dinner in four courses: vegetables, starches, protein, and desserts. Let them share stories from their day as you bring the rest of the meal, but no media at the table.

5. If you eat and cook for one, have some carrots and hummus with a large glass of iced tea. Rest on the couch with your feet up. Then get your meal together, using #3 or #4.

6. Remember, there’s no commandment against eating dessert first, just not the whole pie.

When we’re stressed for time, trying to please others, and attempting to do 37 hours of work in a 24 hour day, we sometimes feel like we’re burning the candle at both ends and the middle both. If we listen to the horrifying events of the news of the world, we wonder how some people can do such terrible acts that cause such harm and come from a deep well of hate. This causes us to feel distressed and anxious, which isn’t pleasant. We don’t sleep well, we’re irritable, and we aren’t the happy campers we think we should be. This causes an existential pain, so we seek relief. Some of us choose talk therapy, exercise, and medications if we have a diagnosed need. Too many of us, however, choose mood altering substances instead. Some of these, such as alcohol and food, are legal, but can be used to excess inappropriately. Others are illegal and problematic from the outset.

No matter what substance we choose to relieve our inner pain, most of us suffer and use substances to relieve one or more of the following issues:

1.Relieve stress—Relying on a substance, which first produces feelings of pleasure, to reduce daily life stressors can impact the likelihood of developing an addiction,. However, frequent use builds tolerance, requiring you to consume more in order to achieve the same effects.

2.Feel good—Consuming a mind altering substance can provide some people a break from reality. It offers a sense of relief from underlying issues your mind may be trying to escape from. However, continual use to get through the day or week can turn into a serious problem.

3.Cope with loss—Losing a family member or friend can take a toll on you emotionally, physically and mentally. A substance, even food, can ease the grief you are feeling and is used to get through difficult times. Depending on it, even temporarily, can spiral into a serious problem.

4.Overcome anxiety—Some people are naturally anxious, causing them to perpetually worry. Using substances that raise endorphins or lower an individual’s inhibitions can make them more comfortable in social situations. Over time though, this can lead to addictive behaviors.

5.Lack of Connection—Many people use because they don’t feel adequately connected to others. They believe that the substance will either fill the void or possibly make it easier for them to forge new bonds. However, the opposite typically ends up being true.

6.Shame—Shame is one of the most difficult emotions for many to cope with, and it is also one of the most traumatic. While alcohol or drugs can temporarily mask shame with false feelings, it also causes many individuals to engage in reckless or foolish behaviors that can later cause them to feel even greater shame, which can cause a downward spiral.

7.Trauma—Treatment experts are seeing some type of trauma in virtually every patient that they treat. There are many forms of trauma, but they are all painful events, in which the victim didn’t have an empathetic witness. For many, treating unresolved trauma is the key to their recovery.

Summary of Hope

If we can recognize a problem, we can take steps to solve it. Sometimes we try to bury our feelings instead of dealing with them. After all, if we can drive through a fast food provider, we can get a tasty treat. We’d like for our problems to be solved just as quickly. Our problems are more complicated than a Big Mac or a Cinnabon—they’re often passed down from generation to generation. We need time, prayer, reflection, and self compassion to rebuild a new, more positive self image.

We are always a people of hope! We have help from a positive community who’ll help our goals come to pass. Ask for help from a caregiver, rather than a second helping of dessert or another round of drinks. Our new life can begin as soon as we want it to.

Joy and Peace, Cornie

More information:

Risk Factors for Health Associated With Obesity

Along with being overweight or obese, the following conditions will put you at greater risk for heart disease and other conditions. Also, a person can have weight appropriate for their height and build, but still have these risk factors due to a poor diet or family history/genetics.

• High blood pressure (hypertension)

• High LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol)

• Low HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol)

• High triglycerides

• High blood glucose (sugar)

• Family history of premature heart disease

• Physical inactivity

• Cigarette smoking

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on weight and health. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/risk.htm

Moderate alcohol use for healthy adults:

Women of all ages and men older than age 65—one drink a day

Men age 65 and younger—up to two drinks a day

Examples of one drink include: Beer: 12 fluid ounces (355 milliliters)

Wine: 5 fluid ounces (148 milliliters)

Ten percent of Americans consume an average of 10 drinks daily

Ten percent of Americans consume an average of 2.2 drinks daily

Thirty percent of Americans consume no alcohol at all.

Weekly Alcohol Use in America

SOURCES:

Michelle Milgrim, R.D., manager, employee wellness, Northwell Health, New Hyde Park, N.Y.; Katrina Hartog, M.P.H., R.D., clinical nutrition manager, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Arizona State University, news release, Aug. 7, 2019

https://consumer.healthday.com/vitamins-and-nutrition-information-27/obesity-health-news-505/fast-food-joints-on-your-way-to-work-your-waistline-may-widen-748957.html

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OH REALLY? But is this a HEALTHY idea?

The angel debates the devil

Scientists say “Eating dark chocolate may reduce depression risk.”

I’m all over this idea! My first question is, “How much chocolate and how often?” Then I listen to the better angel on my other shoulder, who whispers, “You know the cinnamon and blood sugar connection? A sprinkle of cinnamon doesn’t move your sugar in the right direction. It takes large amounts—like a horse pill’s worth!”

That horse pill is 1 gram of cinnamon, which if taken for 30 or 60 days in a controlled double blind trial, still had no effect on blood sugar for persons with type II diabetes. Other studies using 2 grams of cinnamon per day did lower blood sugar. Cinnamon used as a food ingredient, sprinkle, or taste enhancer is generally regarded as safe to use, but it doesn’t lower blood sugar. I still sprinkle my Greek yogurt and fruit with cinnamon every morning, but that’s because I like the taste.

Greek yogurt with cocoa and cinnamon

If you want to begin taking cassia cinnamon supplements, talk to your physician if you have liver disease, diabetes, or you’re pregnant. Cassia cinnamon has the potential to interact with a variety of different medications, including those used to control diabetes.

I can hold out for a magic potion and keep the fanciful notion of one simple pill to cure my ills, or I can accept diabetes and metabolic syndrome as complex conditions that are affected by my genetics, the food I eat, the quality of my sleep, my life stressors, and even the exercise I get daily. In truth, I do want a magic potion, but I’d really like magic Twinkie dust: why can’t my condition just be wiped away? I need a fairy godmother, one who’ll bring the dark chocolate in buckets when she comes to visit.

Magic Chocolate Cupcakes

As a personal experiment, I’ve tried Twinkie Dust in the form of chocolate cupcakes. When I was in grad school, I can attest if an afternoon Hostess Chocolate Cupcake made me happy, having one for breakfast and dinner made me really happy, or at least it did for several days. After five days, the thought of another chocolate iced cupcake with cream filling inside began to make my stomach churn and my lip curl. After choking down one small cake for breakfast, and looking inside the box to count the number still left, I wondered if I’d gotten my money’s worth. That is, could I toss these ever expanding treats in the trash and not feel bad? My frugal angel was debating with my don’t waste food angel. My frugal angel won—I kept hearing my parents saying, “people are starving in China.”

I’m happy, how ‘bout you?

A recent study at the Nutrition Resource Center claims individuals who ate dark chocolate appeared less likely to exhibit clinically relevant depressive symptoms, according to findings recently published in Depression & Anxiety.

“Previous studies have not adequately controlled for variables that may potentially confound the association between chocolate and depression, such as socioeconomic status. Moreover, previous studies have not examined the association with depression according to the type of chocolate consumed,” Sarah E. Jackson, PhD, CPsychol, of the department of behavioral science and health at University College London, and colleagues wrote.

They reviewed National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2007 to 2008 and 2013 to 2014 and Public Health Questionnaire-9 scores from 13,626 adults 20 years of age and older to fill in this research gap.

Chocolate helps elevate the mood

Jackson and colleagues found that 11.1% of those that were studied reported eating any type of chocolate and that 1.4% reported consuming dark chocolate.

“Individuals who reported any dark chocolate consumption had 70% lower odds of reporting clinically relevant depressive symptoms than those who did not report any chocolate consumption.”

In addition, analysis showed that after adjusting for dark chocolate consumption, those who reported eating the most chocolate — between 104 g (3.67 ounces) and 454 g (16 ounces) a day — had 57% lower odds of depressive symptoms than those who reported no chocolate consumption.

When I read this statement of how much dark chocolate the 1.4% (191) of the 13,626 adults studied were consuming, my first thought was, “How much chocolate does the average American eat per year?” After all, 4 ounces seems high, but a pound of chocolate is humongous.

Americans consume 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate each year, or over 11 pounds per person, or 14.67 ounces per month. The Swiss, the world’s top consumers, eat 8.8 kilograms of chocolate each year (19.4 pounds).

Death by Chocolate

This amount of chocolate the small group of super consumers in the aforementioned study eats is (slightly less than) 4 ounces to 16 ounces daily. A normal serving of chocolate is 28 grams or 1 oz.

Fortunately, the median lethal dose for humans is 1000 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. That means that an 80 kg (176 pounds) human would have to eat 5.7 kg (12.6 pounds) of unsweetened dark chocolate at one sitting for it to kill them (going by a theobromine content of 14 milligrams per gram of dark chocolate, although it varies).

Two day Survey

Another fact was the researchers only recorded for this study the participants’ food intake for two 24-hour periods. It’s easy to argue that this might not reflect someone’s standard food intake over a week, let alone across months or years.

I wonder if some yahoos in the group were goofing with the information: “You want to know what I eat?! Ha! How bout a pound of chocolate!” Of course, not one of Cornie’s Kitchen peeps would ever do any such silly or sophomoric thing in a scientific study. Of course you wouldn’t!

Chocolate as a Mood Booster

Chocolate is a Mood Booster

“The present results are in line with the majority of experimental studies, which have shown benefits of chocolate consumption for mood, at least in the short-term,” said the researchers.

Individuals who ate dark chocolate appeared less likely to exhibit clinically relevant depressive symptoms, according to findings recently published in Depression & Anxiety.

Of course, it’s also not realistic to make a 1% sample represent the masses. After all, if this were true in real life, we common folks would all vacation at Martha’s Vineyard and the Hampton’s, rather than camping on Lake Hamilton or in our backyards.

Benefits of cocoa

Antioxidant effects of cocoa may directly influence insulin resistance and, in turn, reduce risk for diabetes. Cocoa can protect nerves from injury and inflammation, protect the skin from oxidative damage from UV radiation in topical preparations, and have beneficial effects on satiety, cognitive function, and mood.

As cocoa is predominantly consumed as energy-dense chocolate, potential detrimental effects of overconsumption exist, including increased risk of weight gain. Overall, research to date suggests that the benefits of moderate cocoa or dark chocolate consumption likely outweigh the risks.

Where else can you find flavanols?

Dark chocolate and cocoa are not the only foods that contain flavanols. Many fruits and vegetables are rich in flavanols, including apples, red grapes, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, beans, kale, and onions.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that a healthy diet is typically one that is high in fruits and vegetables and, as a result, high in flavanol content as well. However, studies examining the relationship between specific fruits and vegetables, dietary flavanol consumption, and brain function have not yet been performed.

Overall Wellness Recommendations

Remember, not all chocolate is the same. Dark chocolate and cocoa have high flavanol levels, while milk chocolate and white chocolate have much lower levels. In addition, many types of chocolate are high in sugar, fats, and calories. So, even if dark chocolate turns out to be good for the brain, it’s unlikely that doctors will recommend a Godiva bar a day.

As for preventive measures, the best recommendations are those your doctor would make anyway, such as regular exercise, choosing a healthy diet, maintaining a normal blood pressure, not smoking, and drinking only in moderation.

Tim Allen School of Personal Experience

Also, from the Tim Allen school of personal experience, I can guarantee an occasional cupcake is preferred to a dozen per week, or even a daily cupcake. The same goes for chocolate! I get my fix from 5 grams of cocoa stirred into my yogurt in the morning. Moreover, when we read these scientific studies, we can dig a little deeper to see if we should get excited about their conclusions or if they seem a tad exuberant for the results.

If you have feelings of hopelessness, a sadness that doesn’t go away, or difficulties with daily life or relationships, ask for a referral to a counselor from your family doctor. Talking about your feelings is better than keeping them bottled up inside.

NOTES:

Dark Chocolate and Depression

https://www.healio.com/family-medicine/nutrition-and-fitness/news/online/%7Bbe1d2457-ae6f-41a1-9d8d-c5636a7a0016%7D/eating-dark-chocolate-may-reduce-depression-risk

Chocolate

Hasanzade, Farzaneh et al. “The Effect of Cinnamon on Glucose of Type II Diabetes Patients.” Journal of traditional and complementary medicine vol. 3,3 (2013): 171-4. doi:10.4103/2225-4110.11490

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3924990/

Death by Chocolate

https://lostinscience.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/death-by-chocolate/

Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696435/

Is there a link between dark chocolate and depression?

Tim Newman

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325944.php

Your brain on chocolate

Robert H. Shmerling, MD

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/your-brain-on-chocolate-2017081612179

IS COGNITIVE DECLINE INEVITABLE?

My mind goes often to this non planet

If I knew where my mind was, I’d be able to find it. 
My mind goes to Pluto at the drop of a hat. 
What did I come into this room to get?
And where did I park my car?

As we age, we lose brain cells. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. My mother claimed we kids were responsible for the early grey in her hair and its white was the result of the loss of brain cells, which she attributed to our wild ways driving her crazy. Neurons in the brain do die every day, but the brain grows new ones into a person’s seventies. 

Previous research suggests cognitive decline doesn’t begin before the age of 60, but this view isn’t universally accepted by scientists, much less the common public. We all have met people who’ve quit growing intellectually in their 30’s, while some have flexible minds and continue to learn new ideas and adjust their previously held thoughts when new information is presented. Some people’s capacity for memory, reasoning and comprehension skills (cognitive function) can start to deteriorate from age 45. 

Happy Birthday—Don’t return the favor.

This is why 40 was once considered “over the hill,” but folks today think of 50 as that apex. When my brother decorated my desk with dead plants and black balloons for my 40th birthday, I’m sure he meant it with tongue in cheek. However he might have been also alluding to my well known “space ranger” wandering mind. I don’t think I had cognitive decline; rather mine was more imaginative daydreaming, also known as “not paying attention.”

When I was 60, I watched a program on dementia and cognitive decline. The difference between forgetfulness and cognitive decline is the first happens occasionally and the latter affects your daily living negatively. On my recent vacation I forgot to bring toothpaste. I bought a tube at the grocery store. Cognitive decline is when you forget how to brush your teeth, you get cavities, and don’t make dentist appointments anymore. Then you lose the teeth and get dentures. Most likely someone also has to remind you to use the bubble cleaner on them and rinse them before they go in your mouth again. 
Since understanding cognitive aging will be one of the challenges of this century, especially as life expectancy continues to rise, we have to ask, what can we do to for our whole health? 

As easy as popping a pill sounds, a large recent review of studies found no solid evidence that vitamin and mineral supplements have any effect in preventing cognitive decline or dementia. The whole internet is full of health claims for this and that supplement, drink, bar, or detox tonic. While B vitamins; beta carotene; vitamins C, D or E; zinc, copper or selenium may be needed in your diet for other reasons, none of these have proved effective in preventing cognitive decline. 

How can you prevent cognitive decline? Try this combination strategy:
Four steps can improve your mental skills, even as you age—
1. following a healthy diet, 
2. getting regular exercise, 
3. socializing, and 
4. challenging your brain.

The results of the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER), which is the latest and most impressive study, goes a step further by suggesting that if you follow all four practices, you may even reverse lost mental capacity. The FINGER study indicated those who did so not only kept cognitive skills from declining, it also improved their reasoning skills and speed in performing mental tasks.

The volunteers were randomly assigned to two groups. One set of participants—the study group—received personal nutritional counseling, exercise instruction from physical therapists, and cognitive training. They also underwent seven medical exams during the study period. They frequently met in groups for cooking classes, cognitive training, or exercise instruction. The other participants—the control group—had three medical exams, during which they received general health advice. Both groups were given mental function tests again at the end of the study.

Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital and author of The Harvard Guide to Coping with Alzheimer’s Disease, says “Healthy lifestyle behaviors can benefit people of all ages. But to have the greatest impact on late-life mental function, get started early.” 

The FINGER study’s results should offer additional encouragement to pursue a healthy, active, engaged lifestyle with regular exercise, a Mediterranean diet, and challenging mental activities because these can help preserve your mental acuity. Moreover, the FINGER study reminds us it not only helps to combine these practices, but it also helps to enjoy them as we do them. 

This wasn’t a quick fix, either. The FINGER program lasted for two years and the participants stuck with it because they were enjoying themselves. They also had become friends with others in their training groups. Although the experiment was demanding, only 12% of participants dropped out. Plus, these folks worked at their exercise—attendance was over 85% at training sessions, which included three to five exercise sessions a week, as well as 10 to 12 sessions of nutrition counseling and 144 cognitive training sessions over two years.

If you’re having trouble making healthy changes, a cooking or exercise class may help you get started and open a new circle of friends. Volunteering as a tutor, joining a community choir, or working on a political campaign can offer new intellectual challenges and social engagement. The key to making lifestyle changes is in finding a way to enjoy making them—and that is often among a group of companions who are striving for the same goal. 

Fresh vegetables and Chicken breast in Olive oil

We all make a choice in our lives. If we want good health, but don’t want to give up our television programs, we either need to pick an exercise time outside of our favorite TV shows, or hit a gym with screens. For instance, I still eat fried chicken, but only on my vacation. I eat uncured bacon on Saturdays rather than every day, and pancakes once a month. I haven’t given up my favorite foods, but I’ve put a limit on the most unhealthy ones out of respect for my body. This gives me some room for when I feel the need to self medicate with two scoops of ice cream, as when my computer died last month and I had to replace it. Making a big decision is definitely an ice cream moment for me, but I don’t need it every day anymore. 

One of my goals at Cornie’s Kitchen is to learn new skills and information to benefit the majority of persons in our world today: half of Americans and 30% of the world’s population are obese or overweight, and the cardiovascular diseases associated with obesity are increasing worldwide also. Since our children are also impacted by this health risk, we have to change our way of looking at food, exercise, time, stress, life, work, and our means of balancing the competing and complex needs in our world. 

If I can’t wave a magic wand over you, say a magic spell, or cast a potion of power over you, then at least I can help you burn through a few brain cells. They’ll grow back. Grey hair is a sign of power and wisdom.  

Joy and Peace, 

Cornie 

Spicy Sweet Nut and Seed Mix

Cold and grey weather in December makes me want to bake in the kitchen. I must have my mother’s DNA for sure, since some of my fondest memories are of her up to her elbows into a giant mixing bowl as she stirred together the various candied fruits and nuts for the fruit cake cookies and loaves she produced in mass quantities every Christmas.

This recipe also had a significant amount of cheap whiskey in it, so when I was preaching in small towns in Arkansas, I usually let one of the ladies of the church know of my need. “Don’t you worry,” they’d tell me, “we’ll make sure this gets covered.”

A few days later I’d be invited over to this kind lady’s home for lunch. She’d have a Christmas gift for me. Inside the colorful bag would be a small flagon, double wrapped in a brown paper bag. “You don’t have to tell anyone where you got it. That’s a secret, just between you and me.”

I’d nod and smile. Christmas has always been time for secrets. My parents would hide presents up in the attic until we got big enough to pull the rope for the hidden stairs. Then they hid the gifts in the trunk of my daddy’s black Pontiac. I never knew why we weren’t able to find the keys. When we were truly old, my folks managed to keep the Christmas secrets by gift wrapping the presents at the store before we came home from school.

One of the mysteries of Christmas I discovered along the way was Santa could write as elegantly as my daddy, but I never told anyone else. After all, I had two younger siblings and I wouldn’t want to spoil his visits for them! This recipe makes a Spicy Sweet Nut and Seed Mix for snacks. You can vary it infinitely and even use it as a base for a Chocolate Bark recipe. It’s great for a share party.

Fresh out of the oven!

Ingredients

4 cups unsalted, roasted whole nuts (almonds, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts)

1 cup seeds (I used pumpkin, quinoa, and sunflower)

1/4 cup agave

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

1 Tbs brandy

227 grams chocolate chips (1 cup)

1 teaspoon kosher salt (divided)

1 teaspoon turbinado sugar

Red pepper flakes from three chili peppers

Step 1

Heat the oven to 325 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the nuts and seeds.

Step 2

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine agave, butter, red-pepper flakes and ½ teaspoon salt. Microwave until the butter has melted, about 30-40 seconds. (Alternatively, you can melt the mixture in a small saucepan on the stove.)

Step 3

Pour the butter mix over the nuts and seeds, and stir until well coated. Dump onto the prepared baking sheet and spread in an even layer. You want the nut mix spread out as much as possible.

Step 4

Bake, stirring occasionally, until the nuts are tacky and look and smell toasted, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle over the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and all of the turbinado or dark brown sugar. Let cool on the baking sheet, then transfer to a bowl and serve (or transfer to an airtight container, where they’ll keep for up to 4 days).

Nutrition information for 1 serving (24 total servings)

SHARK WEEK CHOCOLATE BARK

Shark Week always grabs my attention. After all, that’s what sharks do! Or maybe because it’s far too hot to be outside in Arkansas or because my inner child loves to learn new things. I always loved the beach as a child, since the sea breezes kept the heat tolerable. Inland, folks just suffered in the sweltering humidity pods. Thankfully we now have modern air conditioning, an invention that didn’t come to my home until I was a teenager.

When the temperature was 99F at 10 PM, even a ceiling fan wouldn’t make sleeping comfortable. Cooking was out of the question. Daddy would barbecue or we’d eat cold cuts and fruit. Chocolate candy bark didn’t take long to heat on the stove, so it was a treat to make in the cooler mornings. It also reminds me of coral reefs, which Shark Week shows us nightly on the Discovery Channel.

Corals come in a wide array of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some resemble deer antlers, trees, giant fans, brains, and honeycomb. Although many corals may look like plants, they’re actually animals; they’re most closely related to jellyfish and anemones. There are three different types of coral reef formations—barrier reefs, coral atolls, and fringing reefs. Barrier reefs help to protect lagoons and other types of shallow water; coral atolls (which are often mistaken for islands) are made from volcanic remains; and fringing reefs are found right along the coastline.

Coral reefs, which only grow at a maximum depth of around 150 feet, also grow very slowly, at an average rate of just two centimeters per year. This is because their biomes must maintain a temperature of 70 to 85º Fahrenheit. (Shallow water is more easily warmed by the sun.) Strangely, most coral reefs seem to grow on the eastern side of land masses, where the temperature is believed to be warmer than the western side. Stony coral groups are primarily responsible for building up reef structures.  Coral reefs grow upward from the sea floor as the polyps of new corals cement themselves to the skeletons of those below.

When I make Shark Week Chocolate Bark, I gather the following dry ingredients in a plastic bag or in a bowl:

120 gram(s) Wonderful Pistachios Roasted & Salted Shelled Pistachios

0.5 cup Dried cherries (tart montmorency)

12 pretzels Splits pretzels—break into pieces 1 inch long (I used the broken pieces in the bottom of the bag).

Also needed:

1 tbsp Vanilla extract —divided into 2 tsp and 1 tsp

12 tsp Coconut Sugar—divided into 8 tsp and 4 tsp

Then I weigh out 571 gram(s) GHIRARDELLI chocolate premium baking chips 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate — divided into 400 grams and 171 grams.

Take the larger amounts of chocolate baking chips first. Take chocolate and put into microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds and melt them in the microwave. Stir well. The first or larger amount may need a second 30 second cooking. The hot melted pieces will melt the unmelted ones. Stir after each heating. Bowl will be HOT! Don’t over cook the chocolate.

Remove & add vanilla 2 tsp. Stir. Add 8 tsp sugar. Stir.

Turn out onto parchment paper on cookie sheet. Spread chocolate with spatula. Spread nut and pretzel mix out over it evenly. Gently press it into chocolate.

Take remaining chocolate and put into same bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds. Stir well. The hot melted pieces will melt the unmelted ones. Don’t over cook the chocolate. Add 1 tsp vanilla and 3 tsp sugar. Stir well. Drizzle over the surface and spread out. It will almost cover the whole nut layer.

Put into icebox for for 30 to 45 minutes to harden. Afterward, cut into small pieces about 1” x 1 1/2”. It will keep in an airtight container for about two weeks.

Serving Size: Makes 36 pieces appropriately 1 inch by 1 1/2 inch.

Number of Servings: 36

As you can see, making chocolate bark with broken pretzels, pieces of dried fruit, and nuts comes together much like a coral reef: it gets all the various pieces cemented with a binding agent, which in the kitchen is chocolate. I don’t suggest you go out into the sea and nibble on a coral reef. It wouldn’t be good for the pearly whites.

The Benefits of Coral Reefs

Scientists have discovered that many parts of a coral reef can be harvested to make medications. According to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, coral reefs are emerging as the medicine cabinets of the 21st century: “Coral reef plants and animals are important sources of new medicines being developed to treat cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, viruses, and other diseases.”

Coral reefs are among the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. There are often more types of fish living in a two-acre area of healthy coral reef than there are species of birds in all of North America!

Coral reefs help to improve the quality of the surrounding water. They do this by filtering out things floating in the ocean, which leads to cleaner water. In addition to protecting shorelines, coral reefs are immensely valuable to the fishing and tourism industries. According to the World Resources Institute, the destruction of one kilometer of coral reef equals a loss of between $137,000 to $1,200,000 over a 25-year period. And yet, they estimate some 60% of the world’s coral reefs are currently threatened by human activity.

Dark chocolate has its own benefits to humankind. Without it, some of us aren’t fit for civilized company! We don’t need a massive shark bite full of this calming food to bring us into a harmonious state. This is because chocolate has multiple chemicals that produce positive feelings in us. Phenylethylamine is sometimes called “the love drug”, because it arouses feelings similar to those that occur when one is in love. Another neurotransmitter, serotonin, is a mood-lifter, as well. One chemical that causes the release of serotonin into the brain is tryptophan, found in (wait for it!) chocolate!

If chocolate were a drug, we might need a prescription. Or we might find the law regulating how much chocolate we could have in our candies. As far as I’m concerned, the darker the better, but small children often prefer milk chocolate due to the greater sugar and milk content. Dark chocolate has probiotics and prebiotics, magnesium, iron, copper, and antioxidants. Even commercial dark chocolate bars will have large amounts of sugar, so not all dark chocolate is good for people with diabetes or weight issues. Look for 15 g carbohydrates per serving as a limit. Chocolate is a snack treat, not a meal.

A little afternoon pickmeup or as a side nibble with coffee and a friend, and your mood will be adjusted in no time. Then you can go back to swimming with the sharks and they can’t bite you, since you now have on your impervious dark chocolate shark repellent suit. Enjoy!

Joy and Peace,

Cornie

Nutrition Facts

Servings Per Recipe: 36

Serving Size: 1 serving

Amount Per Serving

Calories

127.9

Total Fat

8.1 g

Saturated Fat

3.9 g

Polyunsaturated Fat

0.4 g

Monounsaturated Fat

0.8 g

Cholesterol

0.0 mg

Sodium

65.2 mg

Potassium

39.4 mg

Total Carbohydrate

15.1 g

Dietary Fiber

1.6 g

Sugars

9.1 g

Protein

2.1 g

Vitamin A

2.2 %

Vitamin B-12

0.0 %

Vitamin B-6

2.2 %

Vitamin C

0.3 %

Vitamin D

0.0 %

Vitamin E

0.0 %

Calcium

0.4 %

Copper

2.2 %

Folate

0.0 %

Iron

7.1 %

Magnesium

0.9 %

Manganese

2.2 %

Niacin

0.0 %

Pantothenic Acid

0.0 %

Phosphorus

1.7 %

Riboflavin

0.0 %

Selenium

0.0 %

Thiamin

1.7 %

Zinc

Summer Bounty Bowl

Summer Bounty Bowl

Summer is in full bloom here in Arkansas in the middle of July. We now have local crops in our grocery stores, and the tomatoes are especially sweet. A few more days on the counter top in the kitchen and they are sugar bombs!

The summer squashes are also excellent. I like the zucchini and crook neck yellow squashes small, so they will cook on the al dente side. Nothing beats the taste of corn on the cob cooked in its own husk. I take off a few outer leaves, rinse the whole under cool water, and place it on a folded paper towel in the microwave. I set the timer for 3 1/2 minutes and go about my business of cooking dinner.

I took 4 ounces of 10% fat ground beef for my cast iron frying pan. As I stirred it on medium high heat, I looked for the container of leftovers with 1/2 cup each of zucchini and summer squash, 3 ounces of tomatoes, 1/4 onion and mixed Italian herbs. Once the meat was almost brown, I added this to the pan. It heated quickly. I was glad for this, since my grocery shopping jaunt had gone longer than I planned, due to a sudden rain shower.

Not long after, I heard the microwave sound. The paper towel is handy for grabbing that hot cob! It steams well inside its own husk. Once I peeled it back, I had a handle to hold the cob upright in the pan. I took a knife and cut the kernels off into the meat mixture. By the time I threw away the cob and stirred the whole pan about a few times, the dish was ready to plate (or bowl, in this case). I used 3/4 ounce cheese to top it, and emptied the remnants of a bag of shredded cheese. It was a very filling supper. Tasty, too, or my appetite just has a much sharper edge these days!

This was a 425 calorie meal, and took no longer than 15 minutes to prepare and cook, with 28 g carbohydrates, 20 g fat, and 33 g protein. It fits into a Mediterranean diet, and can fit into a low carbohydrate food plan. Paleo diets restrict corn because it’s a grain, and grains, as well as beans and legumes, are all excluded foods. Of course, paleo allows sweet potatoes, which have a higher carb content per cup (46 g) than corn (18 g), but no one ever said the paleo diet ever made scientific sense, anthropological sense, or medical sense.

In fact, our bodies are no longer the same as Stone Age people’s, just as our world has advanced beyond that era also. One aspect this diet fantasy does get correct is its insistence on whole or minimally processed foods. Of course, this is a characteristic of all healthy eating plans. The best plans, however, are the ones which have the least restrictions and the very best plans are the ones which you will stick to for a lifetime.

You heard right–lifetime compliance. We might fall off the wagon on a vacation or for a weekend, but not for longer. Especially if we have to watch our blood sugar closely. We know the damage from unrestrained highs or lows it can cause. I once hit a telephone pole at 5 mph while on vacation in a small town in North Carolina. I had an extra 10 days while my car was repaired before I got to come home, all because I didn’t eat before I decided to drive. I’m now trained. I was fortunate not to hit another vehicle or person. I am also much more sensitive to how I feel as my blood sugar drops, since I have the traumatic memory of the thud and crash connected to the swooning feeling of my body.

Only a few scientific studies have been organized to investigate the benefits of a paleo diet for diabetes, but their samples have been small and the time short. Not enough information exists to recommend the paleo diet for other than a short term weight loss diet. It’s not a lifetime healthy eating plan due to the elimination of dairy (calcium), and grains and legumes (nutrient dense fiber and vitamin sources).

With the hot weather outside, I’ll be making tuna salad, chicken salad, and cold, quick meals. Baking will have to wait for cooler weather! Friday might be 101F, with heat factors higher. Crunchy apples and raisins will likely appear in the meat salads. And yogurt, for somehow it tastes cooler than a cloying mayonnaise dressing.

Joy and peace to all,

Cornie

Good article on Stone Age humanity here:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-paleo-diet-half-baked-how-hunter-gatherer-really-eat/

Information on scientific studies here:

https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2016/205/4/paleo-diet-and-diabetes

Eagle Brand Coffee

Drinking Eagle Brand Coffee this morning. I wondered who to root for last night for the big football game. My head said Patriots, but my heart said Eagles. Tom Brady, my head said, is the best quarterback around. What do you know about this backup from the Eagles?

My heart answered, but you love the underdogs, the unappreciated, and the undervalued. Why not go with your heart, since it’s the seat of your feelings, and you trust those more than the logic of your mind. Anyway, it’s just a game, and it’ll be interesting any way it turns out.

Some of my friends gathered to “watch the game,” but as in any party, some are there for the food, some for the commercials, some for the fellowship, and a die hard few for the actual game. The evening is for all, and we don’t all have to do the same thing. We can wander in and out, tasting and experiencing it all, or we can stick with one thing.

We don’t have to be all alike, since we celebrate freedom in America. We don’t even have to think alike or root for the same teams. We forget how blessed we are when we let petty people and politics divide us. If we sought instead to find what unites us, we’d recover the common ground.

After all, those who seek to divide us do this for their best interests, and not for ours. If we separate into easily defined subgroups, they can market to us, they can count us, and they can court us. Perhaps if we began to look for the humanity of the others in our midst and walk a mile in their shoes, we would no longer think of them as “others ” but as brothers and sisters.